The Ballad of Kastroit Rexhepi
Paolo Plotegher


Sarah Leonard sings “The Ballad of Kastroit Rexhepi”, and her body moves through unforeseeable, rickety gestures. She doesn’t seem to be able to control her body, which does not follow the melody, it does not trail any comprehensible code of movement, infant body.

The words are blown out, barely understandable; a vocal technique extremely sophisticated delivers the meaning of stressed words as in a childish tiring monologue. Breath is making her head draw lines at different speeds, slightly backwards, towards the right, now the left…the wafted air makes her womb jolt and her mouth vibrate.

She is telling the story of Kastroit Rexhepi, a baby left by his Albanian parents in a Kosovo battlefield, he was eighteen months old, the age when, it is said, babies begin to form language skills and develop their identities. An acceleration on the right and the head found another, precarious position, through a semicircular gesture, whilst the story goes on, the baby is rescued by the Serbs, they think he is a Serbian baby and they call him Zoran. A trembling of the body, a fake adjustment, the singer tells that during the NATO occupation he is abandoned again, and rescued again, by some Albanian hospital nurses, who call him Lirim. The necklace of pearls joggles on the outstretched breast, whilst the refugees return to their home and the baby is reunited with his parents…

Kastroit moves in a limbo, a space which is previous to the separation of the bad from the good, previous to the knowledge of God, the space of the letters without an addressee, without a destiny. He dances between identities, languages, religious faiths, ethnic categories, between names, restless, he is forced to pick a side, he does not take any, any name, any language, any identity. Stressed body, it is required to take a position, one side or the other. But he is not really able to take one, unarmed, abandoned even before being abandoned. A stress (‘, `, ^…) happens to his body, a stress posed probably on a different language, on a different name, pronounced differently, whilst the body of the soprano as a puppet, as a ridiculous huge doll, is not able to control its own gestures, and her face becomes deformed, comical, under the electric light of an art space in Santa Monica.

The soprano sings and the hand writes the story of Kastroit Rexhepi, who, abandoned more and more times, blows through the lungs until the tips of the fingers. The story blows and the arms stretch, spread out, I forget my names, my words are someone else’s words, sung by another one, they blow as well, through a pneuma, which now widens, now thinners, now seems to blow up, abandoned to the aria, which is air and melody, it seems to resist even more, stressed, my stressed body stiffens and stretches out, it twists and breaks up, on the white page a thread of pearls, no, of dribble, a thread of milk.

I dance in a club called Kali, I never danced this kind of music before, I’m not really able to, it’s a very different rhythm, I try and try, awkward; at some point the body is moving by itself, I cannot stop it…

To sing, to write, to dance, like a sort of training of the body. To train the body to mis-educate the body. To predispose the body towards an ability of resisting an inherited or power-imposed coordination of its movements, through a sort of abandonment. Abandonment as resistance. Probably Sarah Leonard is following a code when she sings; nonetheless it is “another code”. A very sophisticated technique produces the possibility of a desertification closed to the quasi-wordlessness of the voice of the infant, Kastroit. Adrian Piper gives dance classes, teaching how to clap hands whilst nodding with the head at a different, higher speed. Another (strategic) code is exercised. Something is stressed up to the maximum, maybe solo un piccolo spostamento, just a little shift and something else begins to happen, something which is not following a canonical code, nor another second one, quivering arms , shaken legs, upturned heads, a confuse rejoicing, embarrassing, ridiculous. Sarah Leonard must be therefore dancing! This is The Ballad (ballata, which means “danced”) of Kastroit Rexhepi.


Paolo Plotegher is currently studying a Ph.D. at the Visual Culture Dept., Goldsmiths College, London, exploring the political potential of affects and its impact on the body.